Whether or not you bought in to Bradley Cooper’s wonder pill, or John Slattery’s door opening hat, the finger still points in the same direction; Inception. Chris Nolan’s draw dropping crowd pleaser has ‘kicked’ (get it?) off a collection of not quite wannabe, but certainly wanna-try efforts. The rare success of an original screenplay making it not just big, but seismic, in Hollywood, has given studios the confidence to put money where before there would have been rejection.
The string of sci-fi releases stick to one of the genre’s most recognisable traits, the belief that anything is possible. As Private Stevens in Source Code battles to save a Chicago commuter train from terrorists by reliving eight vital minutes, and as Dr Martin Harris in Unknown fights to prove he is who he says he is, audiences can take ninety minutes to forget who they are, too. Surely much more inviting than The Company Men, or Wall Street 2 to show you that greed and economic instability still exist even in fiction.
They might be fantastical and sideline serious contemplations, but central to these films is a lingering paranoia about the core of our identity. Each character is asking ‘Who is controlling me, and am I really me?’ Private Stevens thinks he has escaped one modern nightmare (Afghanistan) only to replace it with another (terrorism). Politician David Norris attempts to escape the trappings of politics to pursue happiness, only to find out that his whole life has been decided for him already. Writer Eddie Morra might have the time of his life on the Limitless drug, but his writing is not truly his.
Innocent fun these films might appear to be, but underneath is a much more cautionary sentiment, which gives away a simmering concern for autonomy and the actions of those we cannot see. It wouldn’t be churlish to suggest that American cinema is experiencing an existential crisis, both in the narratives themselves, and in the physical existence of their audiences